Friday, November 20, 2009

Re-igniting the Storm

-----Original Message-----
From: Zoo Torah [mailto:zoorabbi@zootorah.com]
Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 5:44 PM
To: 'Rav Feldman'
Subject: "The Eye of the Storm"

Dear Rav Feldman, shlita,

Shalom u'vrachah, I hope you are well.

I recently acquired your newly published book, "The Eye of the Storm: A Calm View of Raging Issues." It was with great surprise that I saw that it includes the essay of several years ago, "The Slifkin Affair: Issues and Perspectives," entirely unchanged from its original form. This was even though a number of rabbis and academic scholars publicly pointed out the many, many factual errors and serious flaws that this essay contained. Especially disturbing was that in describing the "discarded minority view" that Chazal occasionally erred in their statements about the natural world, you omitted any mention of the more than three dozen further sources which I sent to you a few years ago, in a letter to which you never responded. Attached is the letter, along with the most comprehensive of the critiques of your essay that were circulated.

I was also surprised that you chose to re-ignite this controversy at a new level, by introducing it to the domain of English published works, when even you yourself acknowledge that it is probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory. But since you chose to do so, I have decided to respond in kind, and I will publish a complete book about the controversy. This is something that I refrained from doing until now, but the publication of your book, along with the publication of the appalling sefer Chaim B'Emunasam, has helped me decide that it is the appropriate course of action. Actually, I think it will be of great help in helping people make informed decisions about where in the Orthodox world they should align themselves.

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

78 comments:

  1. Wow! I cannot wait for the battle. The first salvo shots have been fired. :)

    But really, had he not published the letter, would you still not write the book.

    I'm kind of surprised you didn't write such a book until now, giving the immense sales it would bring.

    (I don't doubt that you will remain respectful.)

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  2. "...which I sent to you a few years ago"

    Did he acknowledge receipt?

    There have been a few times where email was inexplicably sent to my Spam folder.

    (Just trying some dan l'kaf zchus here.)

    Did you and Rabbi Feldman ever communicate by telephone?

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. No, he did not acknowledge receipt. However, I have emailed him on many previous occasions successfully.

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  5. I look forward to your book. Like everything else you have written I expect it will be worthwhile reading.

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  6. I really want to be a supporter of your efforts in principle, but I have found your manner of dealing with dissent to be no different than that of your opponents - accusing those who disagree with you of bias, irrationality, etc. This was most apparent in your handling of the resistance to your "Rashi is a Corporealist" hypothesis a little while back.

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  7. "No different from my opponents"? Really?

    I replied to R. Zucker's objections, and engaged him in debate for quite a while. Are you saying that I did not debate for long enough? How long should I debate him for?

    Or are you saying that even though I did debate him on the issue, it was wrong for me to raise the issue of bias. Why? Was it not true for me to point out that he is biased, and that this bias is very, very likely to affect his conclusions in this matter? Which of these points do you disagree with?

    Or do you feel that bias is simply not a legitimate topic of discussion? And if so, why?

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  8. Rabbi Maroof, I have a question for you. I assume that you accept that the world is billions of years old. What if a young-earther were to challenge you to debate this, by email? Would you accept the challenge? At what point would you end the email discussion, and how would you account for the fact that the young-earther would insist that you have stopped responding to his challenges and that this shows that you have nothing to say and should concede?

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  9. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Can you please post a link of HaRav Feldman's book? I would like to buy it.

    Thanks!

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  10. I don't know of anywhere online to buy it. But his essay on my controversy is available on my website.

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  11. OK. If you do find a link, can you please share it?

    Thanks in advance!

    Looking forward to your new book as well!

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  12. R' Slifkin, YBT-types pride themselves on being utterly logical Rambamists, that all their beliefs are perfectly rational and logically provable, and they are very sensitive to the charge that they are as emotional and traditionalist-biased as anyone else.

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  13. What's a YBT-type?

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  14. Rabbi Maroof,
    While agree that I personally was less convinced about the Rashi-as-a-corporealist issue than most other things R' Slifkin has written about, your statement that R' Slifkin's "manner of dealing with dissent [is] no different than that of [his] opponents" is plain silly.

    Where has R' Slifkin accused anyone of kefira?

    Whose books has he banned?

    Where are his pashkevilim accusing his opponents of being macchish magideha?

    Perhaps most importantly, where has he refused to respond or engage in debate with his opponents?

    You may not always like his tone or conclusions - that is your right - but to equate R' Slifkin's actions with those who oppose him behind an opaque and impenetrable shield of daas torah is simply incorrect, and, in my opinion, more than a little unfair.

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  15. Yosef Greenberg's opening lines reveal what is wrong with this whole enterprise. I am not saying that you should not defend your views in open and honest discussion and debate, with, of course, dignity and respect - you should. But the tone of glee at the prospect of an "exciting" war is antithetical to everything that klal Yisroel should stand for. Also, NY Joe's comments which are a broad generalization in the form of an attack should have no place on a website that tries to promote the open and honest discussion with dignity that I mentioned before. Can't we state our views, and even argue passionately without the "bloodlust" and personal attacks? Is this a machlokes l'sheim shamayim? The tone here suggests otherwise. I'm afraid that honor for Hashem and achdus among the tzibbur are falling by the wayside. And yes, I know that the opponents of your (I'm talking to the Yosef Greenberg and NY Joe) position may not always conduct themselves with dignity, but that's all the more reason that you should. Please!

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  16. I wonder how he views R' Elyashivs flip flopping on Shabbos Elevators.
    Or how about R' Shteinman and Jon Corzine.

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  17. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I think the essence of the story is contained in The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. If he'd only have changed his middle name to "Jewish"! Drat!

    You've got much of the research done, as far as I can tell. But, perhaps a public call for information about any aspects of which you're unaware will turn up historic details that are important to the story.

    When going over this traumatic assault for such a period of time remember to contain any ire you have for the subject at hand. Enjoy your kids, wife, family, and community. I know "the meanies" are cruelly attempting to destroy your relationship to the public and your ability to make a living in your chosen field. So along with writing an accurate summation of your historic case, on a family level the best revenge is living well.

    Hope the baby and Mom are doing well and that you'll be getting enough sleep speedily and in our day.

    Gary Goldwater

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  18. "Actually, I think it will be of great help in helping people make informed decisions about where in the Orthodox world they should align themselves."

    Or perhaps not in the Orthodox world at all?

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  19. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I object to the idea that there are clearly two camps: MO and charedi. As you well know, there were many rationalists in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe. Rav Kook, Rav Herzog, Rav Dov Revel (founder of YU), and Rav Soloveitchik were products of the "charedi" world.

    I think it is a mistake for you to say and publicize that anyone who is a rationalist must and cannot be a charedi. That basically is needlessly surrendering charedim to the world of irrationality. I think that this move is premature.

    As I pointed out, until fairly recently, many Litvaks were quite rational (and even today I think there is still a minority who are rationalist -- especially people over 50 who grew up in a different generation). Is it smart to pronounce this world lost? Is it smart to say that your works shouldn't be read by charedim? Is it smart to say your works are dangerous for charedim?

    I'm not so sure. I don't think we should declare defeat and surrender this section of Judaism forver to the "dark" side.

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  20. "Why? Was it not true for me to point out that he is biased, and that this bias is very, very likely to affect his conclusions in this matter?"

    I think using someone's "bias" as an argument is irrational.

    It's a basic ad hominem fallacy. Who cares if the person is biased? Do we dismiss reports that confirm already assumed scientific facts because the author of the report was biased in wanting that fact confirmed? Nonsense!

    Either you can disprove the person's argument within the framework given or you can not. If you can not, then you must concede that using the assumptions and framework that the person has, their conclusion is a correct one.

    I can understand how in person, or in a chat room the argument of bias might make sense. But as a "well thought out" response? It's just an admition of failure on your part to have any valid arguments. In a book, such an argument would make the entire thing not worth reading.

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  21. Rabbi Slifkin,

    There is certainly a point at which debate must come to an end. At that point we agree to disagree in our interpretation of the facts. But assuming that anyone committed to an interpretation different from our own must be biased is an unproductive attitude because it is highly subjective, can work equally well in both directions in almost every debate and adds absolutely nothing to the substantive analysis of the facts and interpretations in question.

    In my view, there were points and objections raised and left unresolved on both sides. The rants about bias completely derailed an otherwise interesting exchange, shifting it from a study and analysis of facts to a subjective forum on who is more biased. Measuring bias is not fruitful and the accusation of bias can be made against almost all interlocutors in almost every argument, with the same result every time - nothing.

    NY Joe,

    I have no idea what the relevance of your statement is, but your ad hominem comments definitely support my point.

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  22. I'm with Yosef - fire away! The MO world needs to see what sort of nonsense these guys believe. I hope it would help to galvanize them and the RCA into understanding these guys should not be in charge of anything, much less the future of Judaism and Israel.

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  23. re: my first comment above--

    I still think a phone call would've helped things.

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  24. "Or are you saying that even though I did debate him on the issue, it was wrong for me to raise the issue of bias. Why?"

    Relevance. It is an ad hominem argument, relating to the one making the argument rather than the argument itself. If you don't want to debate someone, don't do it.

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  25. Actually NY Joe, YBT-types are simply sensitive to people making broad characterizations about them when they have no idea what they are talking about.

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  26. But assuming that anyone committed to an interpretation different from our own must be biased is an unproductive attitude because it is highly subjective, can work equally well in both directions in almost every debate and adds absolutely nothing to the substantive analysis of the facts and interpretations in question.

    Rabbi Maroof, first of all, I am greatly surprised at your blatantly inaccurate over-generalization. I do not raise the issue of bias with "ANYONE committed to AN(Y) interpretation different from my own." I raised it specifically in the case of a very charged issue, and specifically with a person who is known as being very much a follower of Rambam on this issue. On LookJed, R. Zucker said that educators who teach the chassidic idea about bringing pleasure to God should also warn their students that according to Rambam, they will lose their share in Olam HaBa for this. For a person who feels so passionate about the treifhood of corporealism, obviously it's going to be very hard to accept any argument that one of the greatest Jewish heroes of all time was a corporealist and will lose his Olam HaBa!

    As for your statement that it "can work equally well in both directions in almost every debate." First of all, to say "equally" is ridiculous. Is a religious evolutionist, who believes in miracles but also in evolution, equally biased regarding the scientific merits of evolution as religious creationist who considers evolution to be kefirah?!

    But with regard to it always being possible to make a claim of SOME level of bias on each side - I completely agree. I myself volunteered an explanation of why I might be biased in favor of saying that Rashi was a corporealist. I believe that everyone is always biased in some way. What made me harp on this issue with R. Zucker was his completely absurd claim that he can CATEGORICALLY deny to have ANY bias on this issue!

    With regard to what raising the issue of bias adds to a discussion - usually, I agree that it adds nothing. But in a case where there is a very, very powerful bias, and the person who has that is in complete denial of possessing any bias at all, I think it is worthwhile to point it out. Similarly, as I pointed out, this is the only sensible approach to take with a creationist who wants to debate the scientific merits of evolution - pointing out that it's not a scientific matter for him at all, since no amount of evidence would convince him. He will not and cannot say, "Yes, if you bring x evidence then I will say that the Torah is allegorical."

    With the above explanation, along with my thorough rebuttal of R. Zucker, I hope you will concede the fallacy of your claim that my "manner of dealing with dissent is no different than that of my opponents."

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  27. I think using someone's "bias" as an argument is irrational.

    It's a basic ad hominem fallacy. Who cares if the person is biased? Do we dismiss reports that confirm already assumed scientific facts because the author of the report was biased in wanting that fact confirmed?
    - Daganev.

    No. I made it very clear several times that the fact that someone is biased, even very biased, is not an argument that they are wrong! But it does mean that endless arguments with them are pointless.

    One thing that really frustrates me with this bias topic is how people continually misunderstand and misrepresent my position.

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  28. I think it is a mistake for you to say and publicize that anyone who is a rationalist must and cannot be a charedi.

    Yehudah, I didn't say that. I'm not sure how I feel about that. But I do think that people should be informed about the nature of the charedi world, so that they are better able to decide if it is the right place for them.

    Rav Kook, Rav Herzog, Rav Dov Revel (founder of YU), and Rav Soloveitchik were products of the "charedi" world.

    Times have changed. According to the public consensus in today's charedi world, all these gedolim held views that are kefirah!

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  29. "With the above explanation, along with my thorough rebuttal of R. Zucker, I hope you will concede the fallacy of your claim..."

    What "thorough rebuttal"? Most people that I spoke to after your debate on this issue with R. Zucker thought that he pulverized your argument. I am sure that you and your friends feel otherwise, but among the people in my MO circles, your response was not "thorough" nor did it even qualify as a "rebuttal"

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  30. "What made me harp on this issue with R. Zucker was his completely absurd claim that he can CATEGORICALLY deny to have ANY bias on this issue!"

    I hate when people misrepresent the positions of others. Your quote above suggests that R. Zucker said he has no preconceived notion whatsoever about this issue. But that is not how he himself defined his position. I dug up the following from your exchange with him. This is R. Zucker responding to your question about his bias:

    "The definition of the word 'bias' is: "a particular tendency or inclination, esp. one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice."

    I can categorically state that I have no tendency that prevents an unprejudiced consideration of this question. If there were logical or factual evidence that Rashi was a corporealist, I would readily accept it. There is none that I have seen thus far. (Unless you are suggesting that anyone who does not accept your subjective claims is, by definition, prejudiced)."

    He stated that his preconceived notion would not "PREVENT an unprejudiced consideration of the question" - please explain why this is "absurd."

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  31. What "thorough rebuttal"?

    Wait for the next Hakirah.

    But for now - how do you explain Rashi's silence concerning corporeal descriptions of God, when he makes a point of explaining other types of anthropomorphisms as being non-literal?

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  32. He stated that his preconceived notion would not "PREVENT an unprejudiced consideration of the question" - please explain why this is "absurd."

    Because when you have a preconceived notion (and it's not merely a "notion," it's the combination of a devout belief that corporealism is a foolish mistake which makes you lose your chelek in Olam HaBa, along with a belief that Rashi is one of the greatest Jewish heroes of all time), how can anyone possibly CATEGORICALLY deny that this will affect their judgment?!

    Even if it were possible for an exceptional individual not to be affected by bias here, there's no way anyone could be sure that they are such a person.

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  33. You're going about this all wrong.

    Are you trying to start a revolution or a movement?

    Or are you just another author trying to sell books?

    That's you're a victim of another group's attempts to control the Jewish thinking process is beyond question. They took your book, turned it into the example of everything that is heretical and use it as their banner to push their simplistic, unilateral agenda. Like the mythical Jenin massacre, the facts are irrelevant and the erroneous story does not change.

    So how are you going to deal with this?

    If you fire back, then that's what you'll always be doing - responding. Never leading, never creating new directions, just putting out fires.

    Or you could ignore your critics - let's face it, they don't care what you think and those that listen to them won't be swayed by your arguments - and continue on, pushing your agenda for people to rally around.

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  34. Or perhaps not in the Orthodox world at all?


    This is a very important point. Unfortunately, these discussions often seem to take the form of a "pretend war" where no one actually gets hurt, Chas VeShalom. People (including Rabbi Slifkin, it seems) don't seem to realize that real (ideological) bullets are flying, and those who aren't satisfied with any answers (neither the no-nothing but sincerely traditional haredi ones nor the well-informed but very unconvincing Modern Orthodox ones) are going to end up leaving the fold, either openly or inwardly.

    The one-line pat "rational" answers are not much better than the one-line "frum" statements that "the goyim are all liars, etc."

    Somebody better start taking this whole business very seriously.

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  35. Ephraim, I can assure you that I am FULLY aware that real ideological bullets are flying. If you have issues that bother you, you are welcome to email me or call me to discuss them.

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  36. I think it is a mistake for you to say and publicize that anyone who is a rationalist must and cannot be a charedi.


    Has anyone ever given a non-circular definition of "charedi"? If it just means what the Hebrew word means, i.e., "G-d fearing" or something like that, then your complaint is unnecessary. And if it actually means "anti-rationalist", then you are saying something absurd.

    Does Charedi mean more than wearing a certain kind of hat?

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  37. Wow! I cannot wait for the battle. The first salvo shots have been fired. :)


    Only callous people like battles; real battles always involve casualties, whether physical or otherwise.

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  38. "One thing that really frustrates me with this bias topic is how people continually misunderstand and misrepresent my position."

    Then stick to the issues. Bias is not relevant. If you don't want to debate someone, don't.

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  39. Yirmiah, I already addressed this point above, when I wrote:

    With regard to what raising the issue of bias adds to a discussion - usually, I agree that it adds nothing. But in a case where there is a very, very powerful bias, and the person who has that is in complete denial of possessing any bias at all, I think it is worthwhile to point it out.

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  40. Those who publish misinformation must be exposed.You must proceed with your publication so that fewer will be misled.

    Kvod HaAdmor MeSlifka,we are with you! Go for it!

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  41. Barry - YBT = Yeshivah Bnei Torah of Far Rockaway. They believe that they use only logic for emunah, etc.

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  42. "What "thorough rebuttal"?
    Wait for the next Hakirah.
    But for now - how do you explain Rashi's silence concerning corporeal descriptions of God, when he makes a point of explaining other types of anthropomorphisms as being non-literal?"

    Here we go again! Weren't you embarrassed enough already from the past posting when YU Talmid showed that what you thought was a support for your position from the Sapirstein editors really turned out to be a support for R. Zucker's position? You admitted this yourself! So Rashi was NOT silent only in the way you thought he was.

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  43. I have a perfectly valid way of learning Rashi, which has the advantage of avoiding the difficult step of saying that Rashi decided to quote a Midrash but changed the question from Chazal's own understanding of it.

    Additionally, there is a manuscript edition of Rashi in which Rashi does not even say "Is there right and left," he only says "is there left."

    So my approach still works fine.

    What's your approach?
    How do you explain Rashi's silence concerning corporeal descriptions of God, when he makes a point of explaining other types of anthropomorphisms as being non-literal? You can add the "right and left" Rashi to the latter group, if you want; it only makes your task of explaining Rashi's approach even more difficult.

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  44. In other words, even according to your claim that Rashi was not silent, you have not answered the problem about the strange pattern in Rashi - you have only made it stranger!

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  45. and how is it possible for something corporeal to have a right and not a left?

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  46. The question of the Midrash cited by Rashi is referring to a conceptual right and left, where "right" refers to positive attributes of God and "left" refers to negative attributes. See Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:45.

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  47. "Additionally, there is a manuscript edition of Rashi in which Rashi does not even say "Is there right and left," he only says "is there left."

    Really? Is it a "manuscript" or is it an "edition" - make up your mind. Every critical edition of Rashi's commentary on the Bible (Keter, Torat Chayim, Chavel, etc. and every facsimile high and later medieval manuscript) has both "right and left" - which one has only the left? If you make a claim, you ought to cite the source/proof for it.

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  48. Venice manuscript. It's printed in the Rashi HaShalem edition.

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  49. Avigdor, you didn't answer my question. What's your approach?
    How do you explain Rashi's silence concerning corporeal descriptions of God, when he makes a point of explaining other types of anthropomorphisms as being non-literal? You can add the "right and left" Rashi to the latter group, if you want; it only makes your task of explaining Rashi's approach even more difficult.

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  50. "Yirmiah, I already addressed this point above, when I wrote:

    With regard to what raising the issue of bias adds to a discussion - usually, I agree that it adds nothing. But in a case where there is a very, very powerful bias, and the person who has that is in complete denial of possessing any bias at all, I think it is worthwhile to point it out."

    Stating your opinion that doing so is worthwhile is not "addressing" it. Discussing bias is a irrelevant non-argument. We all get caught up in such arguments, but if your going to assume the mantle of "rationalist", please stick to reason.

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  51. I already explained why it is not irrelevant. It was very relevant to pointing out why the argument would be endless, and why it is pointless to talk about "arguing until one side has convinced the other."

    I don't understand what you mean by bias being a "non-argument." Do you mean that it is not true, or that it is not a reason to consider somebody wrong? I already stated that it is not a reason to consider somebody wrong.

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  52. "Venice manuscript. It's printed in the Rashi HaShalem edition."

    This is kind of funny. The edition to which you refer is not a MANUSCRIPT; it is the Bomberg edition of Mikraot Gedolot, published in Venice in the 1500s. The editor of the edition compiled his work from many sources, and scholars since then have pointed out the inaccuracy of the work, some citing hundreds of mistakes in the edition. Yaakov Aronson of Bar Ilan University wrote about the edition most recently. Compare that with every other printed edition of Rashi and EVERY OTHER manuscript of Rashi (including one that was copied from one of Rashi's own trusted student's hand) that exists - they ALL have the "right and left" - and you are relying on an anthologized edition known for its errors, as a proof for your position??? (Your mistaken reliance on this book is even more surprising since NO OTHER version has the wording the way you would like it to be). Do you check these things out with anyone who is knowledgeable in the area before you put your positions "out there"? That would save you much embarrassment.

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  53. "I don't understand what you mean by bias being a "non-argument."

    It's a term in logic to describe a type of rhetoric that appears superficially to being making an argument but is not...a logical fallacy.

    There is no point in "arguing" why you shouldn't debate someone...just don't.

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  54. Avigdor, I know that it is generally considered a less accurate version, but I don't think it can be discounted entirely. One would have to decide if it was more reasonable that the word would be omitted by a copyist, or inserted by a copyist.

    And I didn't bring this as a "proof" for my position. I am fine with the reading of Rashi in the main edition. I was pointing out that according to the other version, the incorporealist proof does not even start.

    By the way, I don't understand why you are so rude with your comments. What's up with that?

    Also, I have repeatedly asked you a question about how you understand Rashi. Why do you keep avoiding replying?

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  55. Yirmiah, what is wrong with the argument that someone is fundamentally biased and very, very unlikely to be able to concede? Is it never true? And if it is true, would it not be very relevant in explaining why one would choose not to continue a debate with someone?

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  56. "Avigdor, I know that it is generally considered a less accurate version, but I don't think it can be discounted entirely."

    It should be when scholars universally discount its accuracy and when it is the ONLY version compared to numerous others where "right" is included. If your opponents offered a source like this, I would guess that you would discount it immediately as being inaccurate.

    "And I didn't bring this as a "proof" for my position. I am fine with the reading of Rashi in the main edition."

    You ought not to be. Yaakov pointed out in your earlier post that your "big" question of how can Rashi change the language of the midrash is no question at all, since R. Bonchek documents numerous changes of midrashic language by Rashi to suit his own purpose. What you admitted was a support for R. Zucker's position is rather strong, and you seem to be pooh-poohing it.

    "By the way, I don't understand why you are so rude with your comments. What's up with that?"

    This is pretty funny coming from someone who is loose with words like "silly" "ridiculous" "abasurd" "worthless" and the like, in his comments to people who express an opinion contrary to his own. Nevertheless, one should take musar from wherever it comes, so if I have offended you, I apologize.

    "Also, I have repeatedly asked you a question about how you understand Rashi. Why do you keep avoiding replying?"

    I do not think that I need to provide a counter-explanation to validate my criticism of yours. As YU talmid pointed out, the fact that I have not yet formulated a theory does not mean that a false theory that has been formulated should be accepted. Furthermore, if your description of the debate in the upcoming Hakirah is true, then I am willing to bet that R. Zucker will probably offer a great explanation that counters yours. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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  57. It should be when scholars universally discount its accuracy and when it is the ONLY version compared to numerous others where "right" is included.

    Here's something funny - the person who brought this source to my attention was the editor of the Sapirstein Rashi! He, too, said that it was a less accurate edition, but didn't think that it could be entirely discounted.

    "And I didn't bring this as a "proof" for my position. I am fine with the reading of Rashi in the main edition."

    You ought not to be.


    My reading of Rashi works fine, regardless of how well other readings work. I readily admit that if it is true that Rashi does change the Midrashim's meaning, that I do not have that objection to the other reading. However, one would still have to justify why Rashi would change the meaning of the Midrash.

    This is pretty funny coming from someone who is loose with words like "silly" "ridiculous" "abasurd" "worthless" and the like, in his comments to people who express an opinion contrary to his own

    I agree, not the most polite way to speak. However, I do see a difference between describing the perceived flaws in a viewpoint, and a rude tone in general.

    As YU talmid pointed out, the fact that I have not yet formulated a theory does not mean that a false theory that has been formulated should be accepted.

    I have a theory that is internally consistent. You apparently have no theory. I think that you should at least concede that there is a very strange situation in Rashi that you have no explanation for, but which I, according to my reading of Rashi in Bereishis 1:26, do.

    if your description of the debate in the upcoming Hakirah is true, then I am willing to bet that R. Zucker will probably offer a great explanation that counters yours.

    He has an explanation. You can have your faith that it will be a great one. I am very, very confident in the response that I have written, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

    In the meanwhile, while you don't have an explanation, you should concede that you have an unresolved problem with Rashi.

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  58. Which part of this whole picture am I getting wrong?

    1. R. Zucker brings an example from a Rashi about right and left that shows that Rashi clearly states that G-d does not have a body.

    2. You challenge that example with a question: since when does Rashi deviate from the midrash. Attempting to account for the difference between Rashi and the midrash you explain it either as an error due to Rashi's faulty memory, or a scribal error.

    3. You bring support for the latter theory by citing a version of Rashi that has only left in it, not right. You pass that off as being another valid manuscript version.

    4. When "called on it" you admit that it is not a manuscript version, but rather the Bomberg edition, one that you admit to knowing is a corrupt text, yet you mention that little fact only after being called out on it.

    5. Yaakov points out to you that your question about Rashi deviating from the midrash is no question at all, since R. Bonchek documents that Rashi does this often. As of now, you have no response to Yaakov.

    6. Therefore, R. Zucker's assertion that Rashi's right and left comment shows that Rashi held that G-d is not corporeal stands, except in the face of an admittedly corrupt text, one that has a version at odds with all other manuscripts and editions.

    How do you respond to the above? Rashi's stating that G-d has no right or left is a clear statement that he holds that G-d is not corporeal. Your only "out" is the corrupt Bomberg edition?!

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  59. You're getting several parts wrong:

    1) Correct.

    2) I have a different reading of Rashi, which brings it in line with Rashi in Melachim on the very passuk being referred to. From the outset, we would certainly expect that Rashi would say the same thing as the Midrash that he is quoting, and which he uses elsewhere in the same way. The difference between Rashi's terminology can be accounted for as simply being a condensed version of a paraphrase.

    3. I did not bring the Venice text as support for my interpretation - because the Venice text is different, and would render my interpretation pointless! I brought it to show that according to that text, the proof would not even begin.

    4. I have not seen the Venice text and I was relying on what I was told. I was not "hiding" knowing that it is not a manuscript, and I resent that allegation.

    5. Accepted. But you would still need to provide an explanation as to why Rashi changes from the MIdrash.

    6. You make it sound like the Venice text has zero credibility. I am not an expert in these things, but that's not the impression that I got from the Sapirstein editor. And as I said, it is not the basis for my position - I am fine without that text. But you are not fine with that text.

    Finally, you put the pieces together wrong. I have a reading of Rashi that I prefer, and you have a reading of Rashi that you prefer. My reading of Rashi also allows for an explanation of Rashi's very odd pattern as a whole in terms of which anthropomorphisms he explains non-literally, and which he doesn't. With your reading, you admit that you have no explanation for this strange phenomenon.

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  60. The following comment is not necessarily a support /for/ Rabbi Slifkin, but I've decided not to make a fuss about the "Does God have a left or right" question.

    Does a beachball have a left or right? One can answer "no" just as easily as one can answer "yes," yet we'll all agree that the ball is corporeal. (Maybe we're stuck on the notion that if one says that God is corporeal, then He is necessarily in the shape of a human. Or maybe we're stuck on arguing whether God IS corporeal, instead of another possibility, the God is a mysterious combination of corporeal plus incorporeal.)

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  61. Alex, an intriguing suggestion, but I don't think it works here - corporealists either saw God as having human form, or as having the possibility of having human form.
    But there is a similar possibility. Corporealists saw God as being HUGE, with the whole universe as a mere toy before Him. Maybe it would have been inconceivable to have things on the side of Him. But I need to think about this possibility more. Meanwhile, I'd rather say that Rashi means the same as the Midrash.

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  62. "2) I have a different reading of Rashi, which brings it in line with Rashi in Melachim on the very passuk being referred to. From the outset, we would certainly expect that Rashi would say the same thing as the Midrash that he is quoting, and which he uses elsewhere in the same way. The difference between Rashi's terminology can be accounted for as simply being a condensed version of a paraphrase."

    There are a lot of words here but I have no idea what you are saying. YU Talmid was through this with you already once before. Leaving the faulty Bomberg edition aside, is it not true that Rashi in Bereishit asks rhetorically, "Does G-d have a right and a left?" How is this a paraphrase of "Does G-d have a left - He only has a right?" They are NOT the same, in one case Rashi says G-d has a right but doesn't have a left, and in the other he says that G-d has neither right nor left. How is this a "paraphrase"? You can wriggle and twist and force and manipulate all you want, but a truly rational person would see these as two different questions. Again, I put forth the idea that had one of your opponents used this form of argument against you, you would have dismissed it as "contrived" and forced, worthless and without any merit.

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  63. What I meant was that instead of saying, “Is there such a thing as ‘right’ and ‘left’ with regard to God, surely there is only right?” he omits the last few words.

    The point of all this is to bring Rashi in line with Rashi in Melachim and with the Midrash. I accept that it is possible for Rashi to divert from the Midrash, but it is surely not the preferable choice. Also, you have yet to offer a reason as to why he would do so.

    I am still waiting for you to comment about the fact that, with my reading of Rashi, I have a consistent explanation for all Rashi's comments and lack of comments regarding anthropomorphisms, whereas you are stuck. You can have faith that there will be an explanation, but in the meanwhile, you should concede that my approach has a certain advantage.

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  64. "What I meant was that instead of saying, “Is there such a thing as ‘right’ and ‘left’ with regard to God, surely there is only right?” he omits the last few words."

    What are you talking about?!? In the other Rashi (in Melachim) he doesn't say "Is there such a thing as 'right' and 'left' with regard to G-d, surely there is only 'right'" - he says "Is there such a thing as 'left' with regard to G-d, surely there is only 'right'" - so according to you Rashi changed what from what he wrote in Melachim by adding the phrase in Bereishit "as right" into the question - the addition making his meaning (according to you) LESS clear - vehara'ayah - the Sapirstein editors lefi tumam saw the questions as different. All Rashi need have done according to you is simply ask "Is there such a thing as 'left'; there's only 'right'" - a two word difference - the way he did in Melachim, and all would be clear. Your reading makes no sense, and your clinging to this forced interpretation is really curious (not really so curious to those familiar with your methodology).

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  65. Of course it would be easier for me if Rashi would have not said the word "right"! That's obvious. But I think that my reading is still perfectly possible. If you are approaching the topic with the Midrash in mind, that is how you would read it.

    And, again, my reading of Rashi allows me to make sense of Rashi's seemingly bizarre pattern throughout Tenach regarding his approach to anthropomorphisms. You have admitted that you have no explanation for that. Is my reading of Rashi colored by my desire to make Rashi fit in with all the other Rashi's on this topic? Of course!

    (not really so curious to those familiar with your methodology)

    A gratuitous slur? Strange thing to put in a discussion.

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  66. (Also, you still haven't offered an explanation of WHY Rashi would change the Midrash's question, especially when he was perfectly content with it in Melachim.)

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  67. "If you are approaching the topic with the Midrash in mind, that is how you would read it."

    The Sapirstein editors approached it with the midrash in mind, and yet they did NOT read it that way.

    This discussion is going nowhere, since instead of answering my repeated question as to how Rashi's different comments are the same, how Rashi presented a "paraphrase" by CONFUSING the meaning of his statement rather than clarifying it, you merely repeat your assertion again and again that "my reading is still perfectly possible." HOW SO?

    "(Also, you still haven't offered an explanation of WHY Rashi would change the Midrash's question, especially when he was perfectly content with it in Melachim.)"

    YU Talmid already dealt with this beautifully. Rashi, in one fell swoop deals with two issues in Bereishit - the meaning of the midrash, and the idea that people might take the word d'mus to mean physical form, so he disabuses them of that. By phrasing the question the way he did, in a verse that deals with the issue of the midrash BECAUSE of the issue of d'mus - Rashi clarifies both issues in one shot. A perfectly rational explanation.

    So, when it all comes down to it, we have a simple way of reading Rashi - the way that the Sapirstein editors did - that explains everything clearly, except that it poses a threat to your theory, so instead you force and contrive the reading, and cling to a single, corrupt edition over the entirety of the manuscripts and editions that are problematic to you. Incredible!!!

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  68. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I also lived several years in the charedi world and still do to some extent, and I agree that it is important that people know how they think.

    However, my point is that I'm not sure we should admit defeat yet and publicly declare, like you have, that your books are inappropriate for the charedi world.

    You're right that the charedi world has "moved on" since the days of Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik etc. -- all poducts of the charedi world.

    But how about Rabbi Berel Wein? How about Rav Nosson Kamentzky and his brother who gave his haskamah to your book? How about that rabbi in Israel who you quote (Nadel?) concerning maaseh breishis? These people are not MO.

    Look at yourself. You came from a charedi environment, which is why you were opposed so strongly -- by certain activists. There are still rabbis in the charedi world who are not anti-rationalist and, as I mentioned, Litvaks are not by definition non-rationalists. That distinction belongs to chassidim.

    I'm sorry for the length of this comment. I don't disagree with you about the many ills and the trend of the charedi world today. I'm simply saying that I don't think we should write off that whole world yet. I think that's a tactical mistake.

    I don't think you should declare that your books are only for YU-type people. I agree they might be inappropriate for Mea Shearim. But I don't think you should say they're inappropriate for places like Lakewood. We should not declare defeat there yet.

    That's why your books are valuable. They have a chance of influencing people who would never touch a book written by someone from YU. Also, unlike YU people who simply assume chazal made mistakes and accept evolution, you very respectfully raise all the charedi arguments opposing the rationalist view and explain what's wrong with them. I can't think of a single other book which takes charedi arguments as seriously as yours do.

    Anyways, to sum up: I'm not sure declaring the charedi world a lost cause is smart at this point.

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  69. This discussion is going nowhere, since instead of answering my repeated question as to how Rashi's different comments are the same, how Rashi presented a "paraphrase" by CONFUSING the meaning of his statement rather than clarifying it, you merely repeat your assertion again and again that "my reading is still perfectly possible." HOW SO?

    The discussion is going nowhere because there is nothing new being raised. I already explained how my reading works. Instead of saying, “Is there such a thing as ‘right’ and ‘left’ with regard to God, surely there is only right?” he omits the last few words. It's reading Rashi's comment with the following emphasis: "Is there right AND left before God?"


    YU Talmid already dealt with this beautifully. Rashi, in one fell swoop deals with two issues in Bereishit - the meaning of the midrash, and the idea that people might take the word d'mus to mean physical form, so he disabuses them of that. By phrasing the question the way he did, in a verse that deals with the issue of the midrash BECAUSE of the issue of d'mus - Rashi clarifies both issues in one shot. A perfectly rational explanation.


    I already explained why that doesn't work. Dmus, which anyway appears LATER in the pasuk, does not even have anything to do with physicality - Rashi says that it refers to cognitive similarities. Besides, if you are claiming that Rashi is bothered by such anthropomorphisms in a Midrash, why is he silent with the dozens of anthropomorphisms everywhere else?

    So, when it all comes down to it, we have a simple way of reading Rashi - the way that the Sapirstein editors did - that explains everything clearly, except that it poses a threat to your theory, so instead you force and contrive the reading, and cling to a single, corrupt edition over the entirety of the manuscripts and editions that are problematic to you. Incredible!!!

    Why don't you read what I write? As I pointed out, If I was "clinging" to the Venice edition, why would I be explaining how to read Rashi in every other edition?! As I pointed out, I am merely supplementing my approach with the fact that there is another edition, according to which your proof would not even start. But my approach is not based on the existence of that edition!

    So, you have a way of reading Rashi, which I believe has an as-yet unresolved question of why Rashi changes from the Midrash, but has the benefit of textual precision. I have a way of reading Rashi, which works less well (but still viably) with the text, and avoids the question of why Rashi changes from the Midrash. Add to this that your way leaves you with the unresolved mystery of why Rashi is conspicuously silent about all anthropomorphisms except those of a certain type, whereas my way neatly explains all of them, as well as a host of other anomalies throughout Rashi's commentary. That's why I prefer my way. You have to look at the bigger picture.

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  70. "Yirmiah, what is wrong with the argument that someone is fundamentally biased and very, very unlikely to be able to concede?"

    Because as long as you are continuing the discussion you are continuing the debate. As such, switching the topic from the argument to the on making the argument is an ad hominem fallacy. I've asked you questions and or made arguments and you have chosen not to respond. Fine. You do not feel compelled, nor should you, to engage everyone anytime they want to debate/discuss. Choosing to "explain" why you don't want to continue a discussion in this manner is simply a rhetorical diversion (which has a hint of begging the question as well).

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  71. How in the world is explaining the reasons why one is NOT continuing the debate to be defined as continuing the debate?!

    And in the case of evolution, it is a matter of clarifying what the debate is really about - religious matters, not scientific ones.

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  72. Stopping a debate is stopping. Continuing the discussion is continuing the discussion.

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  73. I was stopping one topic, and starting another - explaining why I was stopping the first.

    Maybe I should do a post just on the topic of bias, completely unrelated to any other topic. That way, in the future, I can just refer people to that post.

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  74. I don't think you should declare that your books are only for YU-type people. I agree they might be inappropriate for Mea Shearim. But I don't think you should say they're inappropriate for places like Lakewood. We should not declare defeat there yet.

    That's why your books are valuable. They have a chance of influencing people who would never touch a book written by someone from YU.


    I still don't see any attempt to define charedi. You talk about neighborhoods, but what about people?

    The reality is that wherever you go, you will find some people who are thinkers, and a lot more who aren't. The thinkers in Lakewood, etc. will read something from YU if it seems honest and serious, and they should be encouraged in that direction.

    In any case, Rabbi Slifkin stands no chance right now of presenting himself as charedi, even if he wanted to.

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  75. Rabbi Slifkin,

    1) Which publisher published "Eye of the Storm" mentioned in this post?(there is an Artscroll novel with that title by Yair Weinstock, BTW)

    2)What other "raging issues" issues are discussed besides the essay about the ban ?

    3) Does R. Feldman elaborate on answers as he indicated at the end of his essay("but these will of
    necessity, G-d willing, have to be the subject of another article")?

    Also, speaking of "raging issues",
    while I don't think it's as controversial as the "Mud Mouse"(some creatures have all the mazal), here is a link to the "Mouse Deer" in the Central Park Zoo, subject of a current halachic controversy.
    http://www.centralpark.com/pages/central-park-zoo/mouse-deer.html

    I recently again visted the "Torah Zoo" in Boro Park, a fascinating place, where there is a mouse deer and elk deer mounted on the wall.

    According to the curator, R. Deutch, there is currently a great machalokes between R. Belsky and R. Wosner regarding the kashrus of the "Elk Deer" and IIRC regarding the "Mouse Deer" as well; it has to do with "nivi", a type of teeth mentioned in the gemeara.

    Have you heard of this?

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  76. I read the Eye of the storm and was impressed how Rav Feldman dealt with many cotroversial issues in a refreshing and insigtfull manner. He uses solid arguments to elequently show the Torah's view on many isseus. If you search on google you can find many places to buy it.

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  77. I heard from a friend that Feldheim published the book and you can obtain it from them. Is this true?

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  78. R Natan, i don't know what to say about R Feldman's new book. Let me just say that the tone of your open letter letter to him is different than that of the posts on controversy@zootorah. Some of your admirers might have difficulty dealing with the new tone.

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